We're lucky, as Catholics, to have two New Year's celebrations -- January first, like everyone else -- and our liturgical new year, which started yesterday with the first Sunday in Advent. So, Happy New Year!
Advent is my favorite part of the Church calendar. Yes, I love Lent, too, and need it every time it rolls around, but there's just something about Advent. As a child, the countdown of lighting the candles each week helped me mark how long it would be until Santa came, until I could stand in wonder before the sparkling tree on Christmas morning and gaze at the presents beneath.
Of course, now that I'm a grown up (well, more or less. Half the time I still feel about 12), I know that the birth of Christ is the real gift, that it was Mary's Fiat which began this journey to the coming birth of our Savior, and although His death and resurrection truly saved us, without His birth there would have been no sacrifice on the Cross.
But I still have that sense of wonder, that sense of hopeful expectation that Advent is all about. Only, instead of 'will I get that Cabbage Patch doll and the bike I asked for?' it is a renewal of God's care for me, a renewal that my faith will not be in vain. It's about waiting, patiently (or sometimes not so patiently) for what we want -- the desires of our heart -- and for God's will (which placed those desires there) to be made manifest.
One of my (many) favorite verses in the Bible is Hebrews 11:1: "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen." We live, we pray, because we have hope and the faith to believe our hope will be realized. A few verses before that, though, St. Paul leads up to it with Hebrews 10: 35-37, 39: "Therefore, do not throw away your confidence; it will have great recompense. You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised. 'For, after just a brief moment, he who is to come shall come; he shall not delay.' ... We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life."
It is yet another reminder that our faith, our "confidence," in the Lord will not be in vain, even if that "brief moment" might seem a bit longer to us. And while we might not get that doll, or bike, or whatever else it is we want, Advent and the coming joys of Christmas remind us that God will never let us down, that our faith in Him will result in our eternal life, which is the best possible gift.
Or, to quote Pope Benedict XVI, who says it so much better (and more succinctly!):
"Faith is not merely a personal reaching out toward things to come that are still totally absent: it gives us something. It gives us even now something of the reality we are waiting for... Faith draws the future into the present, so that it is no longer simply a 'not yet.'"